Today’s arcade landscape is a fairly homogeneous one. The two major genres, rail shooters and drivers, dominate the release schedule to the detriment of much variety. That’s why, when something unique does come along, I jump all over it. It just so happens that Chinese developer Universal Space (UNIS) is revitalizing the sports genre at this very moment with Fantasy Soccer.
When the title was first announced in 2018, I was tentatively excited. A Western release wasn’t totally ascertained, but I wanted it so badly. Fortunately for us arcade gamers, units are now available for purchase in North America. Housed in a Pac-Man Battle Royale- or Virtua Tennis 4-esque cabinet with control panel “terminals” for each of the four players, the title seems to offer more traditional arcade gameplay, with joysticks, buttons, and a physical soccer ball at foot-level for kicking control.
Enhancing the core soccer gameplay (with a physical twist) is the large-scale local multiplayer setup. One cabinet supports four players, but two cabinets can be linked for an eight-player, 4v4 competitive frenzy. While I’m sure most arcades will probably only pick up one cabinet, it’ll be blast to play with seven other people when made available. Think Killer Queen but...sports.
While footage doesn’t portray Fantasy Soccer as anything crazy fantastic—the graphics and animations look pretty lame—I’m still eagerly anticipating what’s to come. I see the fun in the experience, despite some glaring presentation issues. UNIS has brought arcade-y sports into 2019, and I appreciate the heck out of it.
Let’s be real for a moment: The sports genre is has all but disappeared in the coin-op realm. Apart from yearly Golden Tee releases, electromechanical novelties such as basketball machines and dome sports, and the occasional fluke like Family Guy Bowling, we simply do not see sports titles on arcade floors. Like, ever. The days of NBA Jam and NFL Blitz are long over. But something like Fantasy Soccer, to me, is super exciting. It’s a totally original, totally new sports release crafted just for arcades. UNIS is reviving a long dormant genre.
Like when Raw Thrills brought back beat-em-ups with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I see Fantasy Soccer almost as a “movement” that needs to be supported. Traditional, joystick-based games aren’t dead—far from it—and I enjoy seeing other offerings in that vein. If this new UNIS piece ends up being really good, I’m more than happy to preach its gospel. Naturally, I haven’t gotten to play Fantasy Soccer yet, but I certainly hope to in the future. I absolutely adored Raw Thrills’ TMNT; it should be apparent that I’m all for another genre reboot.
Fantasy Soccer, as I mentioned earlier, is available for purchase and is now shipping to North American venues. And according to Round1’s website, we should be seeing machines at their locations soon, too!
If you're feeling conversational, you can discuss this recent development in the Wilcox Arcade forum. Otherwise, keep it real, nerds.